Ink jet textile printing – a recent development?

When was the first ink jet textile printer developed?  2002? 1995? 1988?  Actually, a lot earlier than that.  In the early 1970’s a small consultancy in Cambridge, UK was asked by the large chemical group ICI to come up with a new way of printing textiles – digitally. They adopted continuous ink jet technology and built a prototype that printed 2 colours over a 10 inch wide web of fabric.  And it worked (just).

Patent GB 1,354,890 “Improvements in or relating to pattern printing apparatus” filed 26 August, 1970. The inventor was David Paton of Cambridge Consultants who went on to co-invent what became the Xaar technology.
Patent GB 1,354,890 “Improvements in or relating to pattern printing apparatus” filed 26 August, 1970. The inventor was David Paton of Cambridge Consultants who went on to co-invent what became the Xaar technology.

But it was just too far ahead of its time and the project was abandoned. The developers at Cambridge Consultants bought the IP, and the project leader span off an ink jet business soon after.  He called it Domino Printing Sciences.  Cambridge Consultants went on to pioneer many other ink jet technologies and spin-offs, such as Xaar and Inca Digital. The textile printer may not have made it to commercialisation, but the project spawned a large cluster of ink jet activity in Cambridge.

Perhaps the first commercial use of ink jet textile printing was by the Japanese company Seiren, who in 1989 began building several hundred scanning head printers using piezo drop on demand printheads for in-house production. By 2000 Seiren had gross annual sales of over $100M, supplying automotive upholstery, swimwear and apparel.

Today, after a couple of false starts, the ink jet textile industry is thriving. According to SPGPrints, the digital textile market for 2013 was 310 million m2, and is growing at 24% per year. Yet it is still only around 1% of the total printed textile market of 30 billion m2. However, in 4 years time it is forecast to more than double to 733 million m2.

Ink jet textile printing offers rapid fulfilment of new designs, essential for the fast moving fashion industry, but also a key part of the professional interior design market too. The bulk of the medium and high volume ink jet textile machinery manufacturers are based in Europe, with some of the large players located in Northern Italy. So when IMI Europe decided to hold their annual Ink Jet Summer School in Milan this year it was natural to propose an Ink Jet Textile Printing course.

Running 18-19 June 2014, three experts within the industry will give delegates a thorough overview of the ink jet textile industry. Thomas Poetz, of 3T Consulting will describe the markets and applications for ink jet textiles, the drivers for growth, the main players, and how the industry is likely to evolve in the next few years. Dr Simon Daplyn, Ink Sales Manager at Xennia Technology will describe the various ink chemistries that can be used, and the pre and post processing required. Finally, Paolo Torricella, Product Manager at Reggiani Macchine, just up the road in nearby Bergamo, will teach delegates about building machines, the issues of selecting printheads, architecture options such as scanning and single pass printing, and the system design issues of implementing ink jet in production environments.

Anyone with an interest in this increasingly important ink jet application is welcome, and full details can be found at www.imieurope.com.

Kodak’s Stream inks

As most people know, Kodak has been developing a new continuous ink jet technology over the past few years and is now exploiting it as the Prosper digital press platform.  Kodak has just posted on YouTube a presentation by Jim Chwalek on the ink technology used.

There are two main points.  First the use of Kodak’s milling technology to produce nano-particulate inks leads to strong vibrant colours.  Secondly, as continuous ink jet is being used it is claimed that there is no need to include large quantities of slow drying wetting agents in the inks that drop on demand heads need to stop nozzles from clogging.  This enables Kodak to print high quality images directly on to glossy papers without mottle and bleeding.

Certainly the print samples that Kodak has been showing are impressive.  It will be very interesting to see how this ink technology compares with the pre-coating ink fixer or image improver technologies that Hewlett-Packard and Fujifilm are using.